In Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv writes: “Nature presents the young with something so much greater than they are; it offers an environment where they can easily contemplate infinity and eternity. … Immersion in the natural environment cuts to the chase …”
Rockhopping is the story of Clancy’s immersion in his natural environment.
It’s a motivating and engrossing tale.
Many young readers will have already met Clancy and his Uncle Egg when they paddled down the Glenelg River in Rivertime.
Clancy is a little older now and a little stronger, so Uncle Egg agrees to take him on an amazing hike to the source of the river.
There’s a whole lot of preparation – this is a big hike. It will be a challenge for Clancy and Uncle Egg and it will stretch them physically and emotionally. But it certainly presents Clancy with something greater than he is and leaves him with a mind ‘full of wonder’.
We, all of us regardless of age or inclination, spend so very much of our life watching. We watch screens, people, and life itself as we go through our everyday motions. From all that watching we tend to choose a few things we want to do and pursue those things.
So it's refreshing to even think about doing, to remember something we love to do, or to be inspired to try something new - and reading Rockhopping left me with a yearning to hike and to visit the Grampians where Clancy and Uncle Egg take their hike. Hopefully we can make that happen next year sometime.
Doing and watching aren’t mutually exclusive of course.
Clancy and Uncle Egg continue to watch and wonder as they hike, but they also engage with the earth and with the people they meet.
You won’t be surprised to hear that the experience is transformative. When Clancy finds himself separated from Uncle Egg, waiting on a cliff and feeling alone and ‘in the middle of nowhere’, he watches and notices a lizard hurrying under a rock and ants building ‘earthy homes’. His sense of himself and his connection to the earth grows, and he quietly contemplates the moment and his place in the world:
“… I was wrong … I’m not in the middle of nowhere! I’m right here. In a rock shelter, on a beautiful mountain range, among the other mountains, on this amazingly alive planet, spinning in the universe.”
As he hikes Clancy learns a whole lot about life and about himself:
“when I stopped expecting to go with the plan and just went along with the flow it was a lot more relaxing anyway.”
“It’s funny how when you look for one thing, you sometimes find something completely different.”
“I’m just being here, just being me, no shoes, no socks, a boy with a beating heart hopping among the rocks …”
Wise words. Lofty thoughts. But Rockhopping isn’t a book of philosophy, nor does it try to artificially elevate Clancy’s life and adventure. It’s a quick moving, fun and fascinating story. It's easy to read and because it’s in the format of a graphic novel much of the story is told in the pictures. They’re detailed and teeming with life. It’s funny too! There’s a campfire joke about vegetarians who eat fungus:
’So if you’re a vegetarian and the fungus you eat lives off caterpillare larvae, does that still make you a vegetarian?’
‘Maybe a vegepillarian?!’
There are moments of tension:
Clancy falls off a cliff and has to wait while Uncle Egg gets down to him. That takes longer than expected and Clancy has to fend for himself.
There are quirky conversations with Australian vernacular thrown in for good measure:
“I thought woop woop* was like the middle of nowhere … but I’ve realized woop woop is actually somewhere. It’s just not so full up with people and buildings and traffic and stuff.”
There’s the unfolding of a delightfully respectful and equal relationship between Uncle Egg and Clancy:
‘[if] I could choose any person on the whole planet to be with … you know who I’d choose? … I’d choose you, Uncle Egg.’
‘I’d choose you too, Clance! … We’re pretty lucky, really.’
There’s also a little bit of history tucked in to the story as Clancy contemplates the possible history of a ‘really smooth walking stick’ he finds. It’s reminiscent of My Place and quickly works its way back from Clancy to a Jardwadjali woman who ‘might have used it to dig up murnong …’
And there's so very much to learn about the Australian landscape and nature, from animals and plants tucked into the pictures and labelled, to Clancy musing about the river itself:
“We’ve found the river’s source! And it doesn’t start from just one single point like I’d expected. Instead, it’s always changing. Right now the source is the clouds, and the rain that’s pouring down … streaming over rocks, rushing down the waterfalls, winding its watery way into the creek and down into the mountain, turning into a river, and flowing all the way into the ocean.”
Rockhopping is a long story, with lots to think about and learn along the way. Reading it aloud in one sitting would take some doing, but it’s nicely broken into days which can be read individually. There are lots of interesting ideas, plants and animals throughout to follow up on and learn more about as you read.
My favourite moment is when Clancy and Ungle Egg decide to sleep out under the stars and Clancy says:
“… it’s hard to sleep when you’re marveling at a million, zillion stars and your mind is full of wonder … We stare out at the Big Emu in the sky awhile …”
(More about indigenous astronomy here.)
Rockhopping lets us watch as Clancy takes time to contemplate something bigger than himself and invites us to do the same: to take a walk, to lie out under the stars, to build relationships, to study the world.